Authors: Alex Eckelberry
(for the rest of us)
No Grammar. No Rules.
Just Common Sense.
Copyright © 2016 by Alex Eckelberry. All rights reserved.
“For the Rest of Us” is a trademark of Technology
Eckelberry, Alexander (2015-3-7). Writing Well (for
the rest of us): No Grammar. Nor Rules. Just Common Sense.
This book is written for the
writer who has difficulty
knowing how to write well. It can also be used by students in middle or high
school, or for those studying English as a Second Language. That’s why the
language in this book is very, very simple.
It is not designed for people
who already know how to write well, or for those who already have a solid
understanding of the rules of grammar
. They might get a book such as
The Elements of
along with the excellent companion,
On Writing Well).
The problem people face these
days is that they can get anything they want off the internet, but most
reference sources are often too complicated for the average person.
So, I have used simple
language throughout this book, with the hope that it is useful to the broadest
audience possible. I’ve specifically made things less complicated, and this
mean that I have skipped over some things that people highly educated in
will howl over. Well, this is not
written for highly educated people. If you are highly educated in grammar, you
don’t need this book.
(If you’re adventurous, there
is a section at the end of the book where I get into more detail, but I don’t
want to lose you along the way with anything complicated.)
I wrote this book because
modern-day writing has become terrible. I see many errors in all forms of
writing, from simple emails to school papers.
In an online world, you write
all the time and are judged by how well you write. You may post a message on
Facebook, send a message on a dating site, use email, or write a blog. You
don’t want to look poorly educated.
One can suppose that good
writing has been lost for a number of reasons. I won’t speculate as to why,
although I suspect it has a lot to do with the generally poor state of education
Unfortunately, I can’t teach
to become a great writer. The best way to learn to write well is
to read well-written books (or even magazines and online articles), write a
lot, and ask for help when you need it.
I can, however, help you with
tips that I learned along the way myself
, from stern-faced English
teachers, fellow writers, and a lot of study. I love
this language, and I’ve spent my life learning about it.
Am I a great writer? Not
really. I’m decent, and I still make mistakes myself
. I’ve done something, however, that not many people
get a chance to do: While I am a professional CEO, I’ve spent a great part of
my career doing professional writing. I started my career as a technical and
marketing writer and later, became a fairly well-known writer in the online
world. One thing I learned early on was to have no shame. I would take anything
I had written to the smartest writer I knew and ask him or her to tear it to
pieces. I learned a lot that way. Practice makes (nearly) perfect.
I hope this books helps you
to become a better writer. However, I know that my work is not complete and I’m
always looking for feedback. Email me from my website (
) and let me know your thoughts, or where you could
use some help. I consider this book a “living document” and will continue to
update it from time to time.
Steve Jobs, the leader of Apple Computer, created moans and
groans from English teachers across the world when he came up with the
marketing slogan “think different.”
To some, it’s a grammatical catastrophe.
However, most people don’t even know
the grammar might be wrong (and it may not be wrong, if you believe Steve Jobs’ explanation,
which I cover much later in this book).
Jobs was no fool – he was fairly well educated and knew his
grammar. He was just trying to get your attention (and it worked).
The point is not whether or not he did a bad thing. The
point is that you should know yourself when the grammar is
bad, and if you’re going to make mistakes, at least do them
you’re making a mistake.
problem: People hate grammar
You say “grammar” to someone and they want to run for the hills, because
grammar is generally taught so poorly. It’s full of complicated rules that
often don’t make much sense. (In the United States, it’s not even “grammar”
anymore – it’s often part of a hodgepodge subject called
“Language Arts.” I still don’t understand what that term means.)
But what is grammar? The word itself comes from the Greek
“to draw or write.” It’s the rules of writing and speaking.
Grammar should not be intended to make you feel stupid, or
to allow someone else to feel smarter than you.
You must write well to do well in this world, whether you’re
selling, waiting tables or mowing lawns. If you’re selling, you’d better have a
good grasp of the language; if you’re waiting tables, you need to write so that
the cook understands the food order; if you’re mowing lawns, you need to be
able to send an understandable invoice to your customers so you get paid.
Imagine this: You’re playing a sport and you keep breaking
the rules. People will get upset with you. The same goes for the rules of
grammar. People who know the rules will get upset, even just a little bit.
do you need to know grammar
You need to know
of grammar, but there’s a lot of information
you don’t need to get started writing well. If you have the basics, you’ll be
okay. A lot of good writing is common sense.
I’m not going to pound you to pieces with grammar. I’m going
to lead you gently through correcting the biggest mistakes I see regularly and
explain why these are very bad mistakes. I’m also going to help you with a bit
of “re-education.” to help clean up a lot of junk you may have learned along
Then, as you go along in your life and career, you can look
up questions you have online or in books to clarify a point. There’s a lot that
I haven’t covered in this book. But that’s not the point of my effort here. My
point is to get you working in the right direction, and then leave the rest up
to your own ability.
If you have forgotten your basic grammar (and
many have), there’s a section in this book that will refresh you.
You acquired this book because you want to be better in some
way, and I respect that. So I’m not going to beat you up. I’m going to help
English is, in my opinion, a great language. And
understanding where it came from can be helpful. So enjoy this brief and simple
history lesson. It’s not vital, so you can skip it. But you might find it
useful (and even interesting).
How it all started
Many thousands of years ago, there were tribes of people in a large area east
of Turkey. These tribes all spoke a very similar language.
These tribes moved to or invaded places to the east and to
the west. To the east, they went into Persia (modern-day Iran) and India, and
their language became the basis of the Iranian and Indian languages.
In the west, their language became the basis of almost all
of the European languages we speak today. Because it went to Europe and as far
east as India, this original language is called “Indo-European” (there’s a map
at the end of this book if you’re curious to know more).
You can still see Indo-European in many basic words, such
“mother,” “father,” “brother.” These words are similar in all major European,
Indian and Iranian languages because they share the same roots.
Pretty interesting, eh?
Now, we move up in time and come to English.
is a German language
Many people don’t realize that English is actually related to
Two thousand years ago, the Romans conquered the island of
Britain and took over. They prospered as Romans for about 400 years until the
Roman Empire started collapsing.
The fall of the Roman Empire was
not a pretty time. Soon, the people of Britain found themselves surrounded by a
lot of Germans who had moved into the island (often peacefully, sometimes not
so peacefully). These Germans came from northern Germany, and were mostly
members of tribes, called the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes.
Over time, these German tribes established seven kingdoms in
the area known today as England, which is the southern part of the island of
Britain (the northern part being Scotland, and the major western parts being
Wales and Cornwall).
The language of the German tribes became Old English, and you wouldn’t understand it if it was heard today. It’s an old form of German.
Now, prior to invading England, these German tribes had
picked up Latin words from Romans over hundreds of years of interaction with
the Roman Empire. So it may surprise you to learn that many of the Latin words
in English are not necessarily from when the
They were often part of the
language of the tribes that came to England.
These seven German kingdoms lived relatively peacefully,
until getting into all sorts of nasty fights with invading Vikings from
Denmark, who conquered and started putting Danish words into our language; and
then several hundred years later another unfortunate thing happened when a region
of France invaded England.
So now the poor Englanders were ruled by French-speaking people, and French became the language of the upper classes in England.
Finally, England threw the bums out after all sorts of nasty
conflicts, but now the language had words from French, Danish, and, because England was a Christian country, from the Latin used in church
(called Ecclesiastical Latin, which means “church Latin”). And, because England
was a trading nation, we continued to pick up words from other cultures, even
Arabic (such as “orange” and “scarlet.” both of which come from Arabic).
Then things got even more interesting when England started conquering other countries and words were brought in from wherever the
English happened to go.
So it’s a pretty rich language! Interestingly, there are
many words in English that have almost the same meaning but have a different
“feel.” depending on their source. Words from German feel more “earthy” and
“real.” Words from Latin feel more sophisticated. For example, “go” is from
German, while “depart” is from Latin. Both mean almost the same thing, but they
Now, about 400 years ago, the grammar police got involved. They wanted to
make rules for this language because it was so non-standard. However, they did
something that confused things quite a bit: Because they knew Latin (the language that all well-educated people knew), they put Latin rules of grammar
into the language.
In Roman times, the common people spoke Vulgar Latin (vulgar here means “common.”
“nasty”) and the well-educated spoke
Classical comes from a word meaning “the highest rank.” and
Classical Latin was
complicated and definitely the “highest rank”
of Latin. The belief at the time was that learning it taught rich young Roman
boys how to think. It was
The normal people didn’t care, as they just went on their
happy way and spoke Vulgar Latin. You could, however, immediately tell who was
a member of the upper class when they spoke: their speech was a grammatically
perfect form of Latin that was very different from Vulgar Latin.
Well, the grammar police forced rules from this complex
Classical Latin into English. There is a major problem with this idea. Latin is
Latin – a dead language. It’s not English, which is a constantly changing
language with a different structure.
Forcing Latin rules into English has made grammar incredibly
confusing. English is not Latin: it’s a mixed-up Germanic language – like a
mutt dog – that has bits and pieces of many different cultures in it.
you still need to understand some grammar
English grammar may sometimes be silly and poorly understood by
most. But at least having an understanding of the basics is important. Remember
what I said earlier about playing a sport and breaking the rules: you will
irritate others. Grammar establishes the basic rules of good speaking and
writing, and just like anything with rules, you need to follow them.
However, hopefully I’ve made you feel a little better about
having some difficulty with grammar. It’s really not your fault.